poetic convergence

On Saturday, a poet-friend from Sappho’s Circle and Grapevine Group and I went to Ithaca to the Spring Writes! Literary Arts Festival. Our primary purpose was to hear Heather Dorn, the founder of Sappho’s Circle, and her friend Sarah Jefferis read some of their poems. Here is the blurb from the festival program, with links to their author pages:

Reading: What Enters the Mouth and How to Play House 
Dr. Heather Dorn and Dr. Sarah Jefferis will read from their new poetry collections. Heather Dorn is the founder of Sappho’s Circle: A Women’s Writing Workshop for local women poets in Binghamton NY. Her work can be found in Requited, Ragazine, the Kentucky Review, the Paterson Literary Review, and other similar journals. Her first book of poetry, How to Play House, is forthcoming from NeuroQueer Books, an imprint of Autonomous Press, in September. Local author Sarah Jefferis will read from What Enters the Mouth, poems about surviving trauma and poverty in the South. “Fearless poems- a reckoning of the violences of girlhood rendered with grit and clarity.” – Ansel Elkins.

The reading was amazing! Their poems are very powerful and not infrequently heart-breaking. It was especially interesting to me to hear Heather read a couple of poems that I had heard her read previously, as time and a new audience can cause modulation in the presentation. I also got to observe how they structured a longer reading session. I am more used to attending open mic, where each poet reads just two or three poems, so I appreciated how they each chose among their poems to vary the mood and pacing.

The biggest surprise was when Sarah told us that she had just returned from a residency program with Tupelo Press at MASS MoCA. As my poet-friends know, I was blessed beyond belief to attend the first residency collaboration between Tupelo and the museum in November, 2015, which led to the formation of my beloved Boiler House Poets. You can view the video reading from that residency and the collaborative videopoem from our first reunion residency. We also have a book which sprang from an exercise we did with Jeffrey Levine during our first residency. Plans are already in place for our second reunion residency this fall. (There are numerous blog posts on the residencies. You can search the MASS MoCA tag or in the archives for November 2015 and September/October 2016.)

After the reading, we joined Sarah, Heather and her husband for lunch. It was nice to talk about poetry, education, and family over delicious Asian cuisine.

Later in the afternoon, we attended a panel discussion about publishing a first book after forty. We had another nice surprise when two more Grapevine poets appeared in the audience. It was interesting to hear about people’s journeys to publishing a book at 40+; as a poet who didn’t start writing until reaching my fifties, if I ever publish a book, I will fall into that category. I admit, though, that I was feeling insecure because it seemed that everyone on the panel and a good number of people who asked questions in the audience were English teachers and/or MFAs. Given that I am neither of those things nor someone who studied English and creative writing in college, I was wondering if there is still a path for me. Fortunately, on the drive home, my friend was able to offer some perspective for me. So my hope for my book is still alive, even though it will likely take longer to complete and submit than I had hoped.

Life does give poets something to say, but its demands can slow the writing process down.

One-Liner Wednesday: videopoem link

As promised, here is the reactivated link to our Boiler House videopoem:  https://vimeo.com/187387583.

This (somewhat atypical) post is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday series. Join us!  Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/02/22/one-liner-wednesday-rock-is-dead-yippie

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2016 in Poetry

2015 marked the first year that I published poetry available outside the Binghamton area. I had planned to submit to journals on a regular basis in 2016, but lots of unexpected things happened and I submitted very little.

I did have two poems in Eunioa Review, a new poem “The Last Night” and a reprint “Fifty-four”.

My poem “Crowning Glory” appeared as part of Silver Birch Press’s “My Mane Memories” series.

I did keep up my participation with the Binghamton Poetry Project and published in both the Spring and Fall anthologies.

Binghamton Poetry Project also brought me an unexpected and wonderful opportunity to write and present a poem at the annual Heart of the Arts award ceremony. This blog post contains the poem, as well as links to a video of my reading and the story of how the poem came about.

I was thrilled to return to North Adams and MASS MoCA for a reunion residency of the Boiler House Poets. It was fantastic to be back and to have a chance to work on my collection under development. There is a series of blog posts on the residency beginning on September 30th.

There are two exciting developments that bring the Boiler House Poets out to a wider audience. The first is the publication of Verse Osmosis, an anthology that grew out of an exercise from our first residency in November 2015 in conjunction with Tupelo Press. The second is a new collaborative videopoem that Marilyn McCabe produced which we recorded in and about our beloved Boiler House. It is currently entered in a contest, but when the link becomes publicly available, I will return to this post to do an update.

Given my track record with making plans, I know better than to make any firm commitments for 2017. The three things that I will dare to state here are that I will continue to work on my collection under development, I will attend the Boiler House reunion residency this fall, and I will continue to stay active with my local poetry groups, Binghamton Poetry Project, Bunn Hill Poets, and Sappho’s Circle, to which I owe a debt of gratitude. I have learned so much from you all and admire your work and generosity in helping me become the poet I am today and the poet I am becoming in the future.

Update 2/22/17:  The Boiler House Poets’ videopoem is once again available to the public. You can find it here:  https://vimeo.com/187387583

Videopoem from the Boiler House!

I am thrilled to share with you a new videopoem from the Boiler House Poets!

During our recent reunion residency at the Studios at MASS MoCA, we collaborated on a poem about our beloved Boiler House and each recorded her own lines.

Marilyn McCabe, one of our stalwart Boiler House Poets who has experience with videopoems, graciously handled all the photography and editing to produce the amazing final product.

Enjoy!

Last MASS MoCA moments

I posted my final MASS MoCA reunion poetry residency piece right before the Boiler House Poets’ last lunch together, but wanted to add a postscript.

The marvelous Marilyn McCabe had already completed a first draft of our Boiler House videopoem and gave us a viewing before we departed.

It looks fantastic and I am anxious to share it with you all, which I will do as soon as Marilyn puts the finishing touches on it and releases it to the public.

Stay tuned!

wrapping up at MASS MoCA

Yesterday was the last full day of our Boiler House Poets reunion residency at MASS MoCA, such a full day that there was no time to blog before collapsing into bed. I came into the studio early, picking up a steamed milk and an almond biscotti from Tunnel City Coffee on the way.

Thus fortified, I embarked on a morning of writing and visiting places that I could photograph or take notes on for future poems. I re-visited the North Adams Public Library and spoke with a couple of the librarians who helpfully supplied some of the historical information about the building. I walked into the newly spiffed up Colgrove Park with Drury Academy/High/Conte Middle/now Colgrove Elementary School perched on the hillside above. Workers were on site at the former Saint Francis Church, getting ready to removing the rubble that was left behind after the demolition. It is so strange to look at the North Adams skyline without that steeple among the rest.

After the museum opened, I went back to some exhibits that had particularly struck me and made some notes. One was a bit tricky because the room was almost totally dark. I discovered that there is an installation showing a short film set in the upper reaches of our beloved Boiler House. I visited the Boiler House and took (yet more) photographs, especially of the upper levels that are more difficult to reach for people without sturdy shoes and a certain comfort level with industrial settings and heights.

After lunch in the cafe, we reconvened back at the Studios for some workshopping of poems and for a special project. During our first residency, which was the inaugural collaboration between the Studios at MASS MoCA and Tupelo Press, we produced this video of us reading poems in the Boiler House.  The indefatigable Ann Dernier collected poems from an exercise that we did with Jeffrey Levine of Tupelo and made them into an anthology called Verse Osmosis.

For this reunion residency, we decided to create a collaborative videopoem about the Boiler House. Each poet brought some lines, in some cases written specifically for the videopoem and in others excerpted from a larger Boiler House poem, to the group. We made a few small edits and considered several options for ordering our lines before deciding on one.

Next, we went to Marilyn McCabe’s studio to use her microphone and computer to record the audio. Marilyn has produced gorgeous videopoems, so she offered to do the necessary recording and editing. We lined up in our agreed-upon order and recorded the reading, so that Marilyn could overlay it with audio she previously recorded in the Boiler House, which is a sound installation in addition to being a visual marvel. Later, she will use photographs of the Boiler House to complete the videopoem.

On a lark, we decided to take our poem over to the Boiler House to read it there; Marilyn brought her mike and laptop to record, although we assumed there would be too much noise for our words to be heard easily. To our amazement, when we listened to the playback, the balance was very good, so Marilyn may use that recording in the final product. You can be sure that as soon as it is ready, I will post it here at Top of JC’s Mind!

After a short break, which I confess I used to shop in the museum gift store, we reconvened for a bit more workshopping before returning to our apartments to get ready for dinner. We had made a reservation for Grazie, which is on the first floor of the building where we are staying and is where we had our opening night dinner, and had a fabulous time with great food and even greater conversation.

We re-convened in the apartment living room for more time together. First, we did book signing. Copies of Verse Osmosis were passed around for multiple signatures. We were also blessed to have several books by members of the group currently out in print: several books by Kyle Laws, Marilyn McCabe’s Glass Factory, and Ann Dernier’s In the Fury. Then, we snuck in a bit more workshopping and insisted on hearing people read just a few more poems before we were all too tired to continue.

This morning, we all faced the realization that we only had a few hours left before we would have to leave. Six days seems so short! Although we all accomplished a great deal, there is so much more we have to say. The challenge is to keep the creative energy we feel here alive, without the obvious advantages of having a writing studio, an art museum, other poets available for feedback and support, and at least partial respite from household, family, and work obligations.

Yes, it is going to be a challenge.

My hope is to continue to work on my manuscript so that I can send it out to readers in the coming months and have it ready to submit to publishers or contests by the middle of 2017.

You all know how my plans often go, though…

Wish me luck and stay tuned!

MoCA Monday

I did sleep some more after writing this middle-of-the-night post, although I wanted to get up early to shower. I know I said that I wasn’t going to revise The Octagon Room until after I got home, but an idea presented itself so I plunged in and did another draft before breakfast.

I met a high school friend downstairs at Brewhaha, where we enjoyed delicious waffles and conversation. It was great to see her, although we didn’t have much time, as she needed to get to work and I needed to get to the studio.

I did a little more revising and printed two poems for workshopping today, just in case we get two sessions in again. My main goal, though, was to get into the Museum, as I had not yet taken the opportunity to do so and wanted to see the new exhibits.

The museum does not open until 11:00, but the grounds are open sooner, so I went back to our beloved Boiler House. I think it may be the first time that I have been there totally alone, which allowed me to fully engage with the soundscape. I climbed the flights of open metalwork stairs all the way to the top. MASS MoCA has added many more solar panels to their buildings. Being on the top of the building gives a new appreciation for the vastness of the museum site and a spectacular view of downtown North Adams. It was poignant to look at their landmark steeples, though, as one is missing. St. Francis was torn down this year; I could see the remnant that is left, waiting to be hauled away. I am planning to write a poem about it as a postscript to one I wrote last year.

At 11:00, I did an hour-long spin through the first floor of the main museum building where the new exhibits were. Unlike most museums, MASS MoCA does not rely on having a large permanent collection. Frequent visits reveal new works, so the experience of visiting is always fresh. I drafted one poem in my notebook, honoring advice from one of the poets who came to speak to us last year. There were several other pieces of which I am in awe, but don’t feel that I can expand on poetically. Maybe later, or maybe never. Still, I am glad to have experienced them.

After lunch, we went on a formal tour of the museum. Unfortunately, the group was large and we weren’t able to visit too many pieces. I did appreciate being able to accompany my poet-friend Jessica into the Sol Lewitt exhibit. She had helped workshop a poem I had written about it, so it was nice that she was able to experience the art in person. The large exhibit hall is currently closed as the next major exhibit, Nick Cave’s Until, is being installed. We were able to see some of the installation going in and hear a bit about it from our guide. I feel that I will have to try to come back to see it after it opens on October 15. I think there may be a poem there, although it may be too overwhelming for me to write about. Fortunately, it will be here for a whole year.

After the tour and a bit of delay due to a sudden downpour, we reconvened at the Studios for workshopping. I decided to present my new version of The Octagon Room, which was well-received. There are more edits to make, including a new title, but I feel that I will be able to improve it enough to include in my manuscript.

Being back here at MASS MoCA makes it seem that completing a collection is possible. The trick will be keeping the momentum going after I return home. There will need to be more writing, more revision, assembling the collection, sending it out to readers for feedback, more revision, editing, cutting, and adding, and, eventually, sending it out to presses for consideration.

Wish me luck…